Sheryl Lee Ralph gives an Uncensored look at her career on TV One’s docuseries. The actress, singer, author, and mother takes viewers through the peaks and valleys of her journey to stardom in a new episode that premiered on April 16.
MORE: The Amazing Acting Journey Of Sheryl Lee Ralph: From Broadway To The Emmys
“Being a child of the sixties, it was a very hurtful, stressful time when people were very, very proud to just be unkind and ugly,” she told HelloBeautiful. “I started learning that if I didn’t stand up, that if I didn’t work on the armor, then toughen up that skin, that it wasn’t gonna happen.”
She uses that armor to shield others because she knows inner confidence and international fame are not assets everyone has access to. “Very often, there are people around you who can’t speak up,” she continued.
She also uses publicity opportunities to advocate for her fellow artists. “Sometimes you have to help other people because it’s never just about you.”
Sheryl Lee Ralph discussed growing up with loving parents, developing patience, and experiencing “racism in show business” during Uncensored.
On facing abuse on The Great White Way
At the thirty-three-minute mark, she described an incident where she said director and choreographer Michael Bennett struck her during a rehearsal for the hit Broadway play “Dreamgirls.”
“He hit me,” she said during the episode, tapping her shoulder for emphasis. “My father doesn’t even hit me.”
She said she was so shocked that she marched to a payphone at 46th and 8th to report his actions to her union, who “nonchalantly” instructed her to take a vacation after informing her she was not “the first” to experience that.
“So you mean to tell me this man has been going around hitting people or verbally abusing people, and you all just say ‘take a vacation, he’ll pay you.’ That’s how we’re going to get treated,” she continued. “I’m really glad things have changed, and I love the fact that I’m able to see change. You don’t hit people much anymore.”
Ralph chose to share the less glamorous parts of her story not for herself but for people who may never feel safe naming names.
“People look at stars and celebrities and think, huh, they’ve never been through anything, they don’t know about life, these fancy people, they just had it easy,” she said.
“The truth is I don’t look like my journey just like everybody else. I’ve had my highs and my lows, but what has been different for me is the choices that I have made, and the greatest choice has been to carry on through it all in life.” She smiled when discussing shifts in creative environments in the episode. “I’m happy to see that the industry is changing in its response to artists,” she told HelloBeautiful.
On Hair Discrimination
Artists face psychological and even physical abuse and color and hair discrimination. Ralph cited Victoria Rowell and Rosalind Cash as artists who faced backlash for speaking up long before she rocked a rhinestone pony on the red carpet.
“She was always having to do her own hair and makeup, and she put it to task to the company, listen, hire some Black hair and makeup people,” she said of Rowell. “A lot of people, they turned on her for using her voice to say, ‘Hire Black people. I’m here; I’m Black, I need hair and makeup for me. I shouldn’t have to do it all myself, all the time.’ And quietly, that has really spurred the whole movement that we now know as the Crown Act.”
The actress has followed in their footsteps by calling out cultural appropriation.
“After a while, people start speaking up,” she continued. “Artists are the key to change in the world.”
On Putting On For Her People
Sheryl Lee Ralph’s behavior is an example of that change. Stories about the love she spreads on the Abbott Elementary set frequently circulate in the press.
Her co-star Lisa Ann Walter has repeatedly spoken about how she instructed her to speak highly of her curves after hearing her make self-deprecating jokes. “When I was hearing and listening to Lisa, you know, even in jokes, just being unkind to herself, I was like, cut it out. First of all, I don’t wanna hear that. And second of all, you’re wonderful, you’re great. Lean into your greatness. Claim your joy and revel in it.”
Lee Ralph doesn’t just help other celebs by speaking life into them, she makes business choices that benefit non-famous faces.
She accepted her Emmy award in the first-ever gown from accessories wunderkind Brandon Blackwood and tagged her glam squad on social media. She intentionally selected Wordeee, a company led by Marva Allen, a Black woman, to publish her book DIVA 2.0: 12 Life Lessons from Me For You!” During an interview dedicated to her, she reminded us their name has three “Es,” so they get the press.
Some questioned her decision to go with a startup publisher. “People said, why didn’t you go with the big five? Because the big five don’t need me. And I’m not in it for just an advance. I’m in it for the long run,” she said.
She is happy to see equity increasing across the media industry.
“The fact that we are doing us, for us, with us, and sharing it with others is amazing,” she said. “To see Tyler owning his space, to see Byron Allen owning his space, to see Ava [Duvernay] owning her space, to see Oprah owning her space. Ownership is everything. And when you are able to share what it is you’ve got with others, I don’t really think it gets that much better,” she continued.
“That’s a Black woman when I work with her, with my book that’s putting her on the platform,” she said of Allen. “Me with Brandon and his first gown on the red carpet. That’s me putting him on the platform, me working with my daughter (Ivy Coco Maurice) to do my styling. That’s me putting her on the platform. The people that have done my hair and my makeup, that is me putting them on the platform.”
“Hopefully, they will do the same thing for somebody else,” she added.
“I put other people on. That’s how I choose to do me.”
The Sheryl Lee Ralph episode of “Uncensored” is now available on TV One. DIVA 2.0: 12 Life Lessons from Me for You is available now.
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